Three Manchester areas named best places to live in the UK 2023 - but something’s not quite right

The Sunday Times has released its annual list, but doesn't quite seem to understand Ancoats.

By Emma Davidson | 24 March 2023

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The Sunday Times has released its Best Places to Live list for 2023, and three Manchester areas have made the line-up. 

Ancoats, Sale and Stockport have joined a long list encompassing quiet market towns and bustling London neighbourhoods that The Times has deemed the best places to make your home in the UK. We might be biased, but we couldn’t agree more.  

Once an industrial hotbed, Ancoats has transformed into somewhere that often ends up on these ‘coolest places to live’ lists. Packed with hard to book restaurants that draw in some of the UK’s most esteemed restaurant critics, Ancoats has also been an incubator for many of Manchester’s best independents.

Ancoats and Islington Marina have so much to offer residents. Image: Jack Skelton / Manchester’s Finest

Its monthly pop-up markets in Cutting Room Square are a lively sun trap during the warmer months, and it’s numerous bars make it a must-visit late night destination too. Vietnamese restaurant NAM is just one of the places hosting the city’s most popular selectors in its audiophile basement bar every weekend. 

But oddly, The Sunday Times talks about Deansgate and Castlefield – at the opposite end of the city –  when suggesting where to buy in Ancoats. “No.1 Deansgate carries a cachet and a hefty price tag of about £1.2 million for a three-bedroom penthouse,” the article says, “Castlefield, at the other end of Deansgate, has a cool reputation and is home to the Manchester institution Dukes 92, a buzzing bar and restaurant.” 

There is little mention of Ancoats’ many former mills turned trendy apartments, nor do many of its restaurants and bars get a look in. The article mentions the ALDI at Urban Exchange, and Michelin star restaurant Mana but makes no mention of Erst, Elnecot, Flawd, The Jane Eyre, Sud, Hip Hop Chip Shop, Pollen, The Flat Baker, The Edinburgh Castle, Rad’s, Blossom Street Social, Rudy’s or any of the other fantastic eating and drinking spots that have people outbidding one another to live there.

The Perfect Match is one reason Sale is a perfect place to live. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Next up is Sale, a desirable suburb that has seen swathes of new businesses take root lately. These include second sites for Simon Rimmer’s vegetarian restaurant, Greens, Ancoats OG Rudy’s, and Alty favourites Blanchflower and Sud (formerly Sugo) as well as local favourites like Petisco and The Perfect Match. The Times mentions Sale’s “surrounding acres of green space, woodland and waterways giving the town formidable lungfuls of fresh air,”

It continues: “This Trafford town has top-class school, a buzzing café scene and is so well connected that you can live here car-free,” but also mentions Sale Foodhall as a venue to visit, failing to acknowledge its recent closure. Announced earlier this week, the foodhall shut its doors due to insurmountable rising costs, something felt deeply across many hospitality businesses operating in today’s climate. 

Despite this sad recent loss to the town, Sale has rightfully earned its space on the list. This area of Manchester is becoming increasingly desirable to live in with housing prices still lower than many other parts of the city. Sale’s eclectic cafes, restaurants and independent retail spaces ensure its residents aren’t missing out on too much of the buzz of the city. 

Notion and Ate Days a Week are among the indie businesses creating a Stockport revival. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Stockport also made it onto The Times’ 2023 list. There’s so much to shout about here, and The Times makes that clear, giving kudos to the likes of Rare Mags, Yellowhammer, Hillgate Cakery and Still Life Story Homewares. 

It says: “Stockport has engineered a remarkable reinvention in recent years, turning itself from a standard former mill town into a funky, family-friendly alternative to Manchester’s Northern Quarter, a 10-minute train ride away. This is where the avocado-brunching millennials move when they have a Lejoux pushchair and are faced with the school run, but still want to live a fashionable life.”

Capital and Centric, the social impact developers who are currently working on transforming Stockport’s Weir Mill into neighbourhood apartments commented on The Times article: “Stockport is finally starting to get its flowers after years of bubbling under the surface, and for good reason. There’s so much going on here, whether it’s the rapidly changing skyline thanks to new town centre districts or the indie businesses flourishing despite the challenging economic climate nationally.”

Once a forgotten area of the North West sometimes dismissed as having a small town mentality, Stockport has built a tight knit community of indies offering everything from handmade sustainable fashion at Emiko Studios to sustainable homewares and tropical plants from Emma Nosurak, owner of Stockport’s The Plant Shop and Rare Finds. Even its traditional boozers have benefitted from recent makeovers, as often celebrated over on the Stockport Pints Instagram page, which has a loyal following of almost 10,000 fans. 

Sadly Sale Food Hall has now closed but there are still plenty of reasons to want to live there. Image: Foodhalls

Now in its 11th year, The Sunday Times’ guide includes 69 other destinations across the UK, with Wadhurst in East Sussex coming out on top this year. Each place is judged on factors including school, transport, broadband speeds, culture, green spaces and its high streets by a panel who head to each destination on the list. They must’ve missed their train to Ancoats this year, though.

In 2022, Prestwich and Altrincham both made the list, but neither appeared this year. Other North West towns mentioned this year include Rawtenstall in Lancashire, Penrith in Cumbria and Tarporley in Cheshire, which was celebrated for its “elegant Georgian high street dotted with ancient coaching inns and cute shops.”